The K-pop fandom landscape has changed in the past few years. Data suggests that the general K-pop “idol” fandom is more divided than it was less than 10 years ago and challenges some widely held notions about the preferences of global K-pop fans.
With the expansion of K-pop globally has come increased division among the general fandom. An article on seoulwave bemoans the increase of tensions among fan groups: “The K-pop fan community is suffering from a plague right now. Fandoms everywhere are wrought with fan wars sparked by the most minor things. The source of this illness is, ironically, loyalty. As Korean entertainment companies keep pumping out new artists and K-pop continues its plan for world domination, fandoms begin to feel an almost desperate need to keep their favorite groups on top.” Fans argue over whether it is better to be multi-fandom (a fan of multiple K-pop artists) or single fandom (a fan of one K-pop artist). Fans exchange insults on social media when they feel their artist has been disrespected. Newer K-pop fans seek to impose standards on the “correct” way to talk about artists.
However, survey data suggests that the general K-pop fandom was not always this divisive. This data, from my 3 Year Korean Popular Music Survey asked respondents to list their three favorite K-pop groups or artists. 362 responses were collected between April 19, 2012 and March 25, 2015. Respondents hailed from the United States (116), the Philippines, (42), Australia (22), Indonesia (17), the United Kingdom (15), Germany (14), Malaysia (13), Canada (12) and other countries.
Only 2% of respondents identified only one group in answer to the survey question. Most of the rest of the respondents had no problem identifying three distinct groups as their favorite. This suggests that being multi-fandom was the norm for global K-pop fans between 2012 and 2015.
Survey data also suggests that most respondents were not agency-stans, or K-pop fans who exclusively support one Korean entertainment agency. Only 8.1% identified three groups that were all represented by the same agency. 40% of respondents identified three groups from three different agencies. Only 2.8% identified all-girl groups and only 3.6% identified groups that tended to be largely aligned with hip-hop. Many respondent grouped artists that represent vastly different musical styles. For example, one respondent listed 2NE1, a female “idol” group that draws heavily on hip-hop, Super Junior, an “idol” group that frequently produces electronic music and Boyfriend, a newer “idol” group with a more pop-y sound. Another listed B.A.P, a hip-hop leaning male “idol” group, Girls’ Generation, one of the oldest and most popular girl groups and EXO, a male “idol” group with strong ties to R&B and electronic dance music.
Other respondents joined groups whose fandoms experience tension today. For example, jubilantj reports on a BTS fan’s apology letter to the fans of SHINee, BEAST, Winner, EXO, BigBang and VIXX in response to recent tensions among the fandoms. However, respondents frequently listed BTS with these very groups as their favorite between 2012 and 2015. One respondent listed BTS, Infinite and BigBang. Another listed BEAST, BTS and 2NE1. There were several who listed EXO, BTS and GOT7.
Other results point to a different kind of diversity among global K-pop fans that challenges widely-held notions. K-pop tends to be populated by groups, but 10% of the respondents identified a solo artist from a range of genres as one of their three favorites, including Beenzino, G-Dragon, IU, Ailee, Kim Hyun Joong and Junsu (Xia). While K-pop has more male groups than female groups and many complain about the cutesy image of many of the female groups, 28% of respondents identified at least one girl group as one of their favorite three. In addition, several respondents (8%) listed a K-pop artist that debuted in 2003 or earlier as one of their three favorites. Such older artists included H.O.T, the first successful “idol” group, Rain (Bi), the well-known solo artist, BoA, the very successful female artist, old-school hip-hop group 1TYM and veteran hip-hop group Epik High. While many describe K-pop as trendy, these responses point to the continued impact of K-pop on fans.
Asking K-pop fans to list their favorite groups revealed patterns in fan preferences and suggests that the attitudes and behavior of general K-pop fandom has shifted over time.
jubilantj. “BTS fan uploads lengthy, apologetic letters to various fandoms on behalf of all the ARMYs.” allkpop. 9 May 2016. https://www.allkpop.com/article/2016/05/bts-fan-uploads-lengthy-apologetic-letters-to-various-fandoms-on-behalf-of-all-the-armys (18 May 2018).
Staff. “How To Be a Better K-pop Fan.” seoulwave. 11 Dec 2017. http://www.seoulwave.com/2017/12/11/how-to-be-a-better-k-pop-fan/ (18 May 2018).
New K-pop Stans, Here’s What You Missed: Fan Favorites, 2012-2015 by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.